Thank you, Adam, for organizing this week’s theme. This is fantastic, all to your credit.
I don’t know if my post is part of something larger. I know that I believe that my post is part of something larger, that it addresses a field broader than itself. Without this belief I am not a subject, yes?
I hope you will forgive the above rhetoric—with it, I mean to gesture to the crux of the issue here. What I am trying to point to is this: the subject must found itself, in a space broader than the limits of the subject, at a time that retroactively anticipates the moment of this foundation—and this is the belief upon which subjectivity is founded. The question is, does the subject believe this, or does is know that it believes this?
This question, I think, leads us to the fine grain of the materiality of the virtual. If we agree that the subject is fundamentally virtual—even before we had “virtual reality”—then we HAVE to ask what does this virtuality *feel* like, because the virtual dimension of subjectivity foregrounds affect (i.e. feeling) like nothing else. So, I look forward to reading, in the coming days, what you have to say about this.
Many thanks for taking the time to provide a detailed elaboration and response to my questions. This encountering of “sense” in its proper, material sensory, sensuous dimension in Lucier, as you say above is precisely (and surprisingly to me) the same thing that happens in comedy - where the Real (usually through mimicking or redoubling) repeats the Real, momentarily bringing it into material form, and the repetition of this “non-sense” makes us aware that sense always-already has the structure of an error (Zupancic also says this somewhere in her text.)
And I thank you for introducing me to Lucier and for selecting this clip.
You picked an excellent film clip to demonstrate your really great points about Cronenberg’s depictions of the horrific yet pleasurable body. I love the way he shifts erogenous zones to different places on the body, and even detaches them into “babies” portlets, etc. Cronenberg certainly has a “thing” for what he calls “emergent biology,” the sense that anything can go wrong with our material bodies in an instant (particularly seen in the latter part of the film at the “fish farm,” and the two-headed lizard at the gas station. I also love what he does with language in this film, it can go into a loop where sense is detached from its “sense/meaning,” and most of all, I love that in the end we cannot grasp or separate the virtual from the real - I’m totally with you on this; that our real world, even in its material sense is virtual. Thanks for sharing this fascinating post.
Thank you, Shelia, for this wonderful post. Your thoughts on the ways in which films about apocalypse end are particularly intriguing. I think Lacan’s point about the fundamental virtuality of the subject is absolutely worth recalling and repeating—even though this is so familiar to Lacanians—given the way in which both popular culture and some branches of science (think AI research, VR research etc.) tend to celebrate “virtual subjectivity” as the newest TOE. Films like Avavtar and gadgets like Google Glass claim that the “discovery” of virtuality will finally release the subject from its mundane and limited being, and will usher the subject into total freedom; even though it is the proximity to totality that freezes up the subject, because it traumatizes the subject by threatening to eliminate its foundational lack.
So, your comment that apocalyptic films allow us to experience temporality “as a loophole that puts us outside of both finitude and immortality” is a crucial point. I want to extend that important sentence by way of a question, and I hope you will forgive me for my intrusion.
The image of a “loophole” is key here, is it not? Because a loophole—at least in the way that you are thinking it, I assume—is not just a gap/fracture—it is most prominently a “loop” and a “hole” that inevitably forms the loop from within it. Of course, I am thinking about the figure of the torus, especially in the work of Jacques-Alain Miller regarding the extimacy of the unconscious. If apocalyptic films allow us to experience our own extimacy as a way to deal with finitude, do they not do so by integrating, within our signifying chain, this intimate exteriority, as, precisely, a hole that forms the loop?
Sheila, thank you so much for your kind and insightful comments.
My reference to Deleuze is certainly not an end in itself. The absent figure, in my post, is Lacan—and you astutely point this out. But, I think Lacan demands to be included as an absence that nonetheless forms the contour of the articulation.
I don’t think Lucier’s piece is an exercise in Deleuzian flux or virtuality. Lucier exceeds Deleuze, by producing something—the aural object that remains, in the end of the tape, in excess of its sense—that gives a kind of ground to subjectivity, while demonstrating that subjectivity is nothing but virtual. But, this ground is not immanence (as Deleuze would have it); it is, rather, a remainder of the signifying chain, that, by virtue of its specificity, calls attention to the materiality of the Real that is at the core of subjectivity.
So, yes, what remains in Lucier’s tape is the Lacanian voice qua objet petit a. And yes, this remainder, this voice, does not make sense. But, in not making sense (i.e. not meaning anything at all), Lucier’s aural remainder lets us encounter “sense” in its proper, material, sensory, sensuous dimension—the grain of voice, the tone of the room, the hiss of the tape. A sense/affect that appears in and as the absence of sense/meaning.
I enjoyed your clip and commentary very much. Thank you for such an astute contribution. I hope you will forgive me now as I extend the discussion a bit into comparing Deleuze and Lacan re: the subject and remainders. As a Lacanian, I approach how both Lacan and Deleueze present the subject as virtual, but in different ways. In another essay I’ve written (pub. in Psychoanalyzing Cinema), on the film “Run Lola Run,” I try to decipher how the two approaches generally follow along the metapysics of the gap (Lacan), the subject is always split from within and is paradoxically excessive and lacking, vs. the flux of Deleuze’s perspective.
And while Deleuze sees repetition of difference as the opening to new ways of being, with Lacan we can distinguish between modes of repetition in the Symbolic, Imaginary, and the Real. Here, Alenka Zupančič says it best: if Deleuze is interested in the failure of repetition, Lacan is more interested in what “disturbs the failure of repetition,” or in “what happens in the intervals between” (Odd One In: On Comedy, 162, 172).
In your clip, (and I appreciated your italics very much), the semblance is lost, and so there is a remainder, but given the drastically different topologies of Lacan and Deleuze, how does this remainder serve to reconfigure the virtual subject? I can’t help but see the remainder as the leftover Voice, a love-object that is not placeable in the same way that the History Channel’s “Life After People’s” narrator comes from nowhere and doesn’t “make sense.” It is a remainder. Can you tell us a bit more about the place of the remainder in your note above. I see it similarly to the excess/remainder when all “sense” is gone. But what is the new that is produced (in Deleuze) in terms of this remainder? You’ve give us a lot of interesting things to think about.
Thank you Adam, you force me to consider something new. That is, the beautiful asthetic elements you mention - Wagner, the little stick hut, the holding of hands, etc., met with an unimaginable instantaneous full-out blast that destroys the earth. To me the juxtaposition was an excellent choice by Von Trier. What else is to be done when faced with our cataclysmic end - kill ourselves (as Jack did), cry in utter hopelessness as Claire does, or form a little unit to sit and wait. The music (to me) forces us to consider something beautiful (even destruction becomes asthetically different here), touching another’s hand. So that despite Justine’s last words (“The earth is evil, we don’t need to grieve for it,”) she doesn’t seem all that upset. The end of the world occurs on the day of her marriage, which should be a very happy day, but something is amiss throughout the entire film. Re: fantasy, i just want to add that fantasy is our access to reality - it doesn’t confront reality as something separate; in this sense, Justice’s behavior throughout the film suggests her different orientation to fantasy/desire. More important than a confrontation with our fantasy about apocalypse, (to me at least) in the film’s ending is a confrontation with the death drive, the sense that life can go on without end.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post. One question. To what extent Melancholia’s beautiful figuration of the end of the world might involve a fantasy rather than a confrontation of it? I’m thinking of the connection to Earth, the makeshift hut, the Wagner music, the holding of hands, etc.
Soumitra this is a really fascinating suggestion. I’m intrigued by your point that this audio recording is an anticipation of the digital processes we encounter so regularly today. In thinking about the material of the virtual, as I have myself, I’ve been wondering what is to be gained and I think your suggestion about subjectivity provides a great avenue for further reflection. My own post later this week will speak to a certain material quality of the virtual as well, so I’m curious if your post is part of something larger you’ve been thinking about as it relates the subject to the virtual?
I’ll have to keep thinking about an answer (you raise several good questions), but for now would say that I’m talking specifically about how the apocalyptic film (and any disaster film) ends. The upshot here is that almost all disaster films have an idiotic optimistic ending (The Road, I am Legend, for example). More rarely, as in the case of Shyamalan’s films, the ending is ambiguous (the aliens go away but could come back at any time). To keep repeating our ending by surviving (in a kind of continual loop) is the appearance of the death drive (a kind of living death), so the enjoyment felt is not so much pleasurable as it is painful. As far as these films exploiting our cultural fears and anxieties in terms of box office profit, I would just say that films (filmmakers) are part of the generating of our cultural depictions of our end/demise; they re-present and re-create our fears through fantasy. (All films are exploitative in this regard.) Everything is structured within capitalism and so your argument that this might promote a hedonistic attitude about enjoyment and create the logic: if God is dead and we are all doomed, then all things are permissible wouldn’t apply to films such as Melancholia. Here, I would take the Lacanian perspective and reverse the hedonistic logic: If God is dead (and there’s no hope of our survival, our planet, our universe), then nothing is possible. It seems more of a hysterical than a perverse logic at work here. Thanks for the great questions.